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Can I put famous landmarks and quotes on t-shirts and sell them

Dublin, CA |

I have ideas for designs that will fetchure famouse quotes and landmarks, such as: the Golden Gate, Bart Subway, quoets from rapper. Is it ok to have it on my shirts with my logo, if not what procedures do i have to go through for approval.

Attorney Answers 2

  1. If you are talking about taking your own pictures or drawings of famous landmarks and using them that is fine. If you are talking about using images you get off the internet, be careful, those images may (and likely) be the copyrighted property of the photographer or a photo licensing company like Getty or Corbis. Just because an image is available on the internet does not mean it is in the public domain. So if it is not your picture or image, you would have to obtai (normally that mens pay for) a license.

    As to the "quotes" if you mean rap lyrics those are copyrighted materials. You would have to find out who owned the copyright to the lyric and obtain permission. You also would need permission from the artist to use their likeness or name on a commercial product. So tread carefully in this area and get advice from a local attorney qualified in intellectual propoerty. Good Luck

  2. You need to consider at least three intellectual property issues:

    1. As Oscar notes, if you don't create each "design" yourself then you need permission from whoever owns the copyright in the design (i.e. the drawing or photograph) to lawfully reproduce and distribute it on your tee shirts. Creating all of the designs yourself is the safest route. If you can't create them then you could hire someone to do so. If you do, you'll need to enter into a written agreement with that person whereby that person assigns (i.e., sells or conveys) the copyright in the designs to you. This is called a "work for hire agreement." In short, either create the designs yourself, have someone make them for you under a work for hire agreement, or license the rights to use pre-existing designs from whoever owns the copyright in them.

    2. Many famous landmarks serve as trademarks. Images of the Transamerica and Empire State buildings, for example, serve as trademarks for each of the companies that own those buildings. Likewise, one particular view of the Golden Gate Bridge serves as the trademark for the government agency that operates the bridge and many other companies use other views of the Golden Gate Bridge as trademarks. In addition, pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Seattle Space Needle, etc. are all used as trademarks. So, even if you own the copyright to a drawing or photograph of a famous landmark, you must still determine if the graphical representation of that landmark is protected under trademark law. Otherwise, you may inadvertently use someone else's trademark to sell your tee shirts. Before selling your shirts, you should have a trademark attorney review the designs to determine if they are confusingly similar to some else's trademark.

    You can search the Trademark Office's online database of designs yourself with some practice. Go to the main page at and click on "Search." When at the search index page click on "free form search." A search menu will open. Insert 070905[dc] in the search block and click on each of the results that come up (or click on "image list" at the top of the page). Using the 070905 code will call up all trademark designs that are "Stadiums, arenas, and amphitheaters." If you want to find other designs that serve as trademarks you should peruse the design code manual at, locate whatever design code you like, and then go back to the search page and insert that code as a search term -- such as 070905[dc].

    3. Publishing short quotes is generally lawful -- even on tee shirts that will then be sold and even when you publish the name of the person who created the quote. One caveat: selling a large variety of shirts that publish many different quotes from a single individual may not be lawful w/o permission from that person -- especially if that person actively attempts to make money endorsing products or selling products in his or her own product line. In general, though, you do not need permission from anyone to sell shirts that contain quotes.

    The above is general information only and should not be used to take or refrain from taking any action. You should always seek the advice of competent counsel before beginning any business enterprise.